When you’re the pastor dude like me, folks will come in to the office from time to time seeking advice, insight, counsel, and guidance to help them through some of the hairier times in life. And when you’ve been the pastor dude for as long as I have, you learn that it is important, first, to listen very closely (because sometimes the question they are asking isn’t the question they want answered) and then, to consider your answer very carefully.
The listening part can sometimes be the hardest because some folks tell you way more than you want to know, or take way longer to tell it than you have time to listen. But after you’ve listened real good to all you can stand, then comes the real important part: answering their real question in a way that they can actually hear and understand. This requires that you know your audience – a skill not as easy as it might appear.
The Apostle Paul gave some advice on this very subject to Timothy, a young pup just learning how to do the pastor thing:
It’s true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say. It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life, sex, truth, whatever! They are contemptuous of this great Message I’ve been put in charge of by this great God. 1 Timothy 1:8-11 (The Message)
Pretty clear in his message, Paul was. When we live responsibly, we don’t have much contact with “The Law”. Problem is we don’t always live responsibly and most folks make irresponsibility into an art form. It seems that most folks think, and quite erroneously, that somebody will sweep in and clean up all our messes for us. Well, mommy’s gone, and if you wait in the line to get the government’s help, you’ll have eight new problems before you get to the front.
And don’t expect God to clean up your messes. I am famous, among the High school kids I worked with, for saying, “God will forgive you from every sin you can commit; He rarely, though, relieves you from the consequences of those sins.” And you KNOW I’m right!
So, here’s some advice from me and Paul: Try to live responsibly; clean up your own messes because ultimately nobody else will; and be careful what you say and to whom you say it – even the right thing said to the wrong person, or in the wrong way, can be more trouble than being right is worth.
Pressing on toward the goal . . .